KScope – Released 9 September 2013
So, is it possible to improve on perfection?
When I reviewed Katatonia’s ‘Dead End Kings’ album a year ago (q.v.) it got a well-deserved five star rating and made it into my best five albums of the year, such was the magnificence of its juxtaposition of thunderous riffage and gossamer-like tranquility.
As a fan of the lighter side of progressive rock, imagine my delight to find that the band had decided to strip away the more strident elements of the album and emphasise the quieter side of things.
Gone are the slabs of doom-laden electric guitar. Gone are the pounding drums. Gone are the occasional raucous vocals.
In their place appear delicate piano, gently strummed ethereal acoustics, heartfelt vocals and dreamy keyboards which sound like a whole orchestra turned up at the studio.
Make no mistake, Katatonia have taken a real risk here. The album features every track from ‘Dead End Kings’ in the same running order and it would have been easy for it to fall into the ‘just another re-mixed album’ elephant trap.
The fact that it doesn’t is basically down to three things – the quality of the original songs, the stellar musicianship and the vision of the band to recognise the potential.
Nothing has been lost in transition – the tracks are just as mesmerising, the stories told just as powerful, it’s just that the whole thing has been drenched with a dark mist of melancholia – taking what were already poignant, angst-ridden songs to a whole new place.
The opener, ‘The Parting’ lends itself beautifully for the transition to become apparent and by the time follow-up track ‘The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here’ has finished it’s obvious to anyone that the band has made a fabulous job of it.
‘Buildings’ is the track that perhaps most starkly indicates what has been achieved here – the original being a dense, heavy piece with thrashing metal guitars, pummelling drums and almost death-growl vocals, transformed into a thing of dark, forbidding beauty with fragile, skeletal piano figures and picked acoustic guitar.
Everyone wondered after ‘Dead End Kings’ – how could they possibly follow that? I think it’s fair to say that no-one expected this.
It is a dark, dense and inexorably bleak piece of work, and I use the word piece advisedly as the album must be listened to in its entirety, but it is also strangely uplifting in its stark beauty and almost impossible fragility and a deserved triumph for a band willing to take a risk.
So, is it possible to improve on perfection? The answer has to be – yes, in spades.
Review by Alan Jones
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